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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Writing Habits of 21 Famous Authors

I think every writer tries at some point to establish a writing habit. But establishing a good habit of any kind can be quite challenging. Let's first go over what a habit is.

A habit is a pattern of behavior acquired through repetition. Now sometimes we associate habit with bad behaviors that we are trying to stop, but as a writer we need to cultivate healthy habits to help us accomplish our writing goals.

Establishing a good habit means being consistent in your writing goals. By doing so you can be more productive in your writing and more successful in your endeavors.

My writing habits include, writing while the children are at school and writing first thing in the morning. I don't accept phone calls before 3pm if at all possible, unless they are scheduled. I also stop writing at 3pm to make time for my family as they come home from school and work. On the weekends, my schedule is the opposite. I also don't write with the television on. Television is a major distraction for me. I also invested in a dvr so I wouldn't be tempted to turn on the television, that way my favorite shows are recorded and I haven't missed anything.

A habit I'm trying to cultivate is to write without constantly double checking myself. I try not to do a lot of editing until I'm done with at least a chapter. But I'm still working on fighting the urge to edit during the writing process.

Here are some writing habits and writing advice of 21 famous authors. Tell me what you think and if you have any writing habits of your own. Remember what works for one person may not work for another. There isn't a right or wrong way if it's works. Just try to be consistent and productive in your writing.

Happy Writing!

Toni Morrison

"Writing before dawn began as a necessity–I had small children when I first began to write and I needed to use the time before they said, Mama–and that was always around five in the morning. Many years later, after I stopped working at Random House, I just stayed at home for a couple of years. I discovered things about myself I had never thought about before. At first I didn’t know when I wanted to eat, because I had always eaten when it was lunchtime or dinnertime or breakfast time. Work and the children had driven all of my habits… I didn’t know the weekday sounds of my own house; it all made me feel a little giddy. I was involved in writing Beloved at that time–this was in 1983–and eventually I realized that I was clearer-headed, more confident and generally more intelligent in the morning. The habit of getting up early, which I had formed when the children were young, now became my choice. I am not very bright or very witty or very inventive after the sun goes down." For more about this interview visit Linda Sands.

William Faulkner

"The writer must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed-love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice."

Maya Angelou
Angelou has used the same "writing ritual" for many years. She wakes at five in the morning and checks into a hotel room, where the staff has been instructed to remove any pictures from the walls. She writes on legal pads while lying on the bed, with only a bottle of sherry, a deck of cards to play solitaire, Roget's Thesaurus, and the Bible, and leaves by the early afternoon. She averages 10–12 pages of material a day, which she edits down to three or four pages in the evening. Angelou goes through this process to "enchant" herself, and as she has said in a 1989 interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, "relive the agony, the anguish, the Sturm und Drang." She places herself back in the time she is writing about, even traumatic experiences like her rape in Caged Bird, in order to "tell the human truth" about her life. Angelou has stated that she plays cards in order to get that place of enchantment, in order to access her memories more effectively. She has stated, "It may take an hour to get into it, but once I’m in it—ha! It’s so delicious!" She does not find the process cathartic; rather, she has found relief in "telling the truth".

Octavia E. Butler
First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won't. Habit is persistence in practice. Forget talent. If you have it, fine. Use it. If you don't have it, it doesn't matter. As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent. Never let pride or laziness prevent you from learning, improving your work, changing its direction when necessary. Persistence is essential to any writer -- the persistence to finish your work, to keep writing in spite of rejection, to keep reading, studying, submitting work for sale. But stubbornness, the refusal to change unproductive behavior or to revise unsalable work can be lethal to your writing hopes. Finally, don't worry about imagination. You have all the imagination you need, and all the reading, journal writing, and learning you will be doing will stimulate it. Play with your ideas. Have fun with them. Don't worry about being silly or outrageous or wrong. So much of writing is fun. It's first letting your interests and your imagination take you anywhere at all. Once you're able to do that, you'll have more ideas than you can use. Then the real work of fashioning them into a story begins. Stay with it. Persist. Read my book review of Kindred by Ms. Butler.

J.K. Rowling 
J.K. Rowling would dash to the nearest cafe and write like mad when her daughter Jessica fell asleep. "What you write becomes who you are…so make sure you love what you write! The writing of Harry Potter has been inextricably linked with my life for seventeen years, and saying goodbye has been just as tough as I always knew it would be. If you tackle a novel or nonfiction book, you’ll be living and breathing it for years. If you’re haven’t started writing your book with love and passion, you may be struggling to write for years."

Johnny D. Boggs
"It's called a mortgage. That may come across as flippant, but it's true. I write for a living. No trust fund. No retirement. No steady paycheck. I approach writing like a job. Shower. Go to work in the morning, knock off, if I'm lucky, at late afternoon."

Truman Capote
"I am a completely horizontal author. I can't think unless I'm laying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch with a cigarette and coffee handy. I've got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tead to sherry to martinis. No, I don't use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand. Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand."

Terry McMillan
"As a single mother who had to work full-time. Ms. McMillan rose at 5:00 A.M. every morning and spent two hours working on her novel. Then, she would pack up her small son and drop him off at day care on the way to work. McMillan typed and printed her drafts at work during her lunch hour. Fortunately, her coworkers and supervisors were supportive of her effort.

Francine Prose
"Fortunately, or unfortunately, we live in a strange apartment with one twenty-foot-high window facing a brick wall, about a foot and a half away. Not much of a view. So when I'm at my desk I feel like I can work undistracted. I might as well be in the country. Writing while facing a wall, incidentally, seems to me the perfect metaphor for being a writer."

Donna Hill
"When we as writers read good work it can only enhance, stimulate and encourage us in our own solitary endeavors. After reading a good book I feel charged and want to up my writing level. Do I? Hmmmm, only a reader will know for sure, but I certainly hope so. Although my motto is “A writer writes” my other one is, “Any writer worth a damn reads.” Check out my interview with bestselling author Donna Hill.

Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway famously said he wrote 500 words a day, mostly in the mornings, to avoid the heat. Though a prolific writer, he also knew when to stop. He claimed he quit each day in the middle of a sentence. Hemingway wrote, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

Flannery O'Connor
In, The Habits of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor, she explains,"I'm a full-time believer in writing habits...You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away...Of course you have to make your habits in this conform to what you can do. I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place.” Flannery O'Connor had lupus, extraneous activity was draining during the end of her life. She sat facing the blank surface of her wood dresser, which provided no distractions.

Nikki Giovanni
In a recent interview I did with Ms. Giovanni, she said, "you have the internet, you can do a lot on your own, you can blog, you can set up publishing in a way that was a lot easier than when we were coming up. I would say if you’re interested in writing, you should write." Ms. Giovanni also stated in an essay with Harper Collins, "it's always a bit intimidating to try to tell how I write since I, like most writers, I think, am not at all sure that I do what I do in the way that I think I do it. In other words, I was always told not to look a gift horse in the mouth....I would hope each and every woman who ever thought she wanted to write would at least give it a try."

R.A. Salvatore
"Remember when you were in the second grade and you wrote something you thought ws the best thing you ever written? Then it came back from the teacher covered in red marks, destroying you. That's what being a writer is, every single day. Particularly with the Internet and the loudmouths it inspires, a writer will hear constanly how much he/she sucks. And the bigger you get, the worst it will be. So if you don't believe in yourself, you'll be another of those writers who walks around with his head down, thoroughly depressed. I know a lot of writers, but I know very, very, few happy writers."

Victoria Christopher Murray
In my recent interview with Ms. Christopher Murray, she said, "I have this relationship with food and shelter and so I write. No really, writing is my job. So just like anyone else who has to go to work to survive, I write. I just happen to have a job that I love."

Thomas Clayton Wolfe
I use a typewriter. I set myself a quota — ten pages a day, triple-spaced, which means about eighteen hundred words. If I can finish that in three hours, then I’m through for the day. I just close up the lunch box and go home — that’s the way I think of it anyway. If it takes me twelve hours, that’s too bad, I’ve got to do it.” Thomas Clayton Wolfe, wrote while leaning over a refrigerator because he was so tall, six feet six inches tall to be exact.

"I know too many people who've spent months working over the first chapters of their projected novels. That's wrong. Get it down. Bumble it through. Tell the story. When you have fifty or 100 pages typed, you've got something to work with."

Ralph Waldo Emerson
In order to manage fluctuations of intellectual dry spells with that of an abundance of creativity, Emerson kept a journal. Every day he collected even the smallest thought, idea, or dream that crossed his mind. This enabled Emerson to better organize his thoughts when they flowed freely and to spur new ideas when he hit a dry spell. Writing helped Emerson make sense of the world. He would revisit the ideas he had recorded and add to them as he gained new insights.

Perseverance: Harris attempted suicide in 1990 after a long slide into severe depression and alcoholism left him isolated from work and most friends, broke, and facing eviction. He entered therapy, quit drinking, and began living with friends when he began writing Invisible Life. "The journal that I've been keeping is a way for me to deal with my reassurances of depression," Mr. Harris, said. "I began writing at 33. I wrote out of trying to work some things out in my own life. It was a story that hadn't been told. I feel like in any kind of special novel writing, you have to tell a story that is purely your own, that no one else can write but you. I went into writing this novel with a quiet confidence. If no one else wanted to read it, that was OK." You can read my author and book highlight of his last literary work, No One in the World,, that Mr. Harris co-wrote with R.M. Johnson.

"My schedule is flexible, but I am rather particular about my instruments: lined Bristol cards and well sharpened, not too hard, pencils capped with erasers.” Vladimir was an avid user of index cards. Most of his novels were written on 3x5 inch filing cards that were copied, expanded, rearranged and paper clipped and then stored in slender boxes.

Richard Wright
In the biography, Richard Wright: The Life and Times, the author says, Wright got up early, she says, around 6 A.M. – sometimes earlier at the height of summer. Clutching his lined, yellow legal pad, a fountain pen, and a bottle of ink, he walked to nearby Fort Greene Park. He climbed to the top of the hill, where he sat on a bench, looking down on the brownstones and, in the distance, the ragged tenement houses by the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and filled page after page with his scrawling handwriting.

Don't forget to leave a comment and tell me what your writing habits are or what you thought of some of the writing habits of these 21 famous authors.

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I am a writer, filmmaker, wife and a mom of five beautiful, intelligent, quirky kids. This blog is for writers, aspiring writers, filmmakers and movie lovers. Bringing you my favorite books, films and photos, as well as giveaways and updates on my journey. I'm currently in the process of producing my first short film from my collection of short stories titled, If I Had My Way. The first story to be filmed will be Tandarin Drive. My award winning book, If I Had My Way, is available now. You can purchase a copy at and You may contact me via email at:

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